Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Stranger in Fiction?

Talking with the director of Not Working Today


by So Young Chang


Abu Ahasan is a Bangladeshi construction worker in Singapore whose boss has withheld payment from his employees for several months. Unwilling to tolerate this situation any further, Abu gathers testimonies from his co-workers and jots them down in his notebook. One morning, he fakes being sick and instead of getting into the lorry, he gets into a city bus to pay a visit to the Ministry of Manpower. Written as such, the premise may seem rather straightforward. But as the opening scenes to Shijie Tan’s short film Not Working Today, the story of Abu’s day off holds a dramatic power that captivated an audience at a civil society event showcasing art about and by migrant workers. As people made their way out of the cinema, there was a collective buzz about the film, as well as about other segments such as a poetry reading from a migrant worker. “It might be a bit of preaching to the choir,” Shijie says in humble response to the reception it got at the event. But there is something special about the communal experience of watching a film in a darkened theatre, in how it can evoke our empathy for strangers and also offer social commentary about a system that is just “not working”.

Abu also happens to be the actor’s real name, and the story he acted out could easily have been his own. Shijie met him at Dibashram, which is a resting space in Little India for migrant workers run by the publisher of the only Bangladeshi newspaper in Singapore. While no longer in session, there used to be troupes of migrant workers who would perform plays once every few months. There you could feel the same conviction for how arts and entertainment could bring people together through shared emotions. Locals would come by to watch the plays and even without subtitles, everyone understood what they were about. In one particular play, Abu was playing the role of a jester and he had a special quality about him that caught Shijie’s eye. Not Working Today was filmed during Abu’s last three weeks in Singapore as he waited for his medical claims to be settled and two days after the end of filming, he returned to Bangladesh.

By the time he made the film, Shijie had spent six months volunteering with TWC2, a migrant worker support and advocacy organization in Singapore. Still in film school at the time, he was compelled to do something after reading an article about the treatment of migrant workers. While he felt strongly about reacting to injustice, he does not subscribe to the term ‘activist’ because it would be reductive in his role as a filmmaker. For one, there is no single cause that he feels committed to as an individual, and furthermore he does not think that one should make art to dictate ethics or moral statements.

“I’m inviting people to complete film. Typically how I think about it is you want to show them just enough for them to be interested, and give them the necessary tools to make their own decisions about the situations that they’ve just seen.”

The focus on provoking thought and sparking conversation is a core driver of what motivates him to make films. What the medium allows for is the space to engage with the human being on the screen, where you can be intensely interested in the well-being of someone else, and in that process, see yourself become a little kinder and a little more humanist.

This work of presenting human emotion and experience requires a lot of care, especially when dealing with subject matter that involves a social justice element. As a filmmaker, there is a fine line between feeling compelled to act and making use of the material. Ultimately, it comes down to having integrity and thoughtfulness from the moment you approach a topic and maintaining it throughout the storytelling. For example, if he had made a film that purely blamed society, it would have been a disservice to the migrant worker community.

“My job when I think of dramatic scenarios is to find the most appropriate, most dramatic, and most human thing to put on the screen. These three things don’t always settle on one thing, and they might be in separate directions sometimes. But when you do find something that pulls them all together, it’s quite special. So my job is to find those things and put it on the screen.”

Where power imbalances abound, the best one can hope for is to open up small pockets of exchange where people can start to listen to each other more. Unlike activists, the difficulty for artists, as Shijie says, is to express a message in a way that doesn’t involve him just telling you what he thinks.

As he wrapped up the film editing process and submitted a rough first cut to the faculty (after all, this was a school assignment), the Little India riots happened. The precise timeline was this: a week after submitting the finished product, he was called in to hear the evaluation, and the night before was when the events unfolded that changed society in ways both minute and profound. This sequence of events coloured the entire proceedings that followed and he was vindicated in the worst way possible that this was an urgent issue.

Not Working Today, it’s fictionalized, but is it fiction?”

Three years after the film was made, the story of Abu still rings true. Where the line between fiction and documentary blurs, the artist positions himself, hoping to communicate something that will eventually make life better for some. For the filmmaker, “you don’t need to think up stories, just look around.”


Abu is not working today. 




FOOTNOTE:
Not Working Today won Best Singapore Short Film at the Silver Screen Awards at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival. It was screened at HealthServe’s event, Builder, Father, Poet at the Projector on August 14, 2016.


So Young Chang has recently finished a 3 month internship with Migrating out of Poverty based at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Kayayei Migrants of Madina Market in Accra, Ghana

By Mariana Chambel



Kayayei or Kaya Yei
a Ghanaian term that refers to a female porter or bearer, who has usually migrated from a rural community to any of Ghana's urban cities in search of work.


As part of the informal sector of the economy in Ghana, kayayei women and girls address market transportation gaps and assist in market exchange in Accra. They are improving local economic development. The kaya business significantly contributes to improving the standard of living of young female migrants and their families. After a heavy rain one morning, I headed to Madina market, wishing to find a group of women and girls taking a break from their duties to get the chance to interview them. Navigating the market between crowds, motorbikes, goats, and numerous kayayei (carrying big pots) I found a group of women gathered in a circle sitting on their upended pots; some eating, some feeding their babies or simply taking a rest.

Making the decision to travel
Fati comes from Wa. She is 22 years old, divorced and has one child staying with her mother back home. This day was her first day working as a Kayayei and she had found her place among other women that came from the same region.

Salamatu also comes from Wa. After arriving in the city she looked for people from her home town as a part of her ‘network’. They assisted her in finding a place to stay in Accra. She is married but has made the move to Accra alone a year ago. Salamatu came to Accra to help to support one of her siblings to stay in school, after the person who was sponsoring their education passed away.
Amina is from Tamale. She is married and her husband is in the north with their four children. She arrived four months ago and is planning to go back home by December. Amina came to the city to assist her husband in paying for their children’s education.

It is no coincidence that these three internal migrants – Fati, Salamatu and Amina –all came from regions in the north. In Ghana, there is a high level of income inequality between rural and urban areas, with a disproportionately high percentage of the poor living in rural areas. Since independence, the rural areas of Ghana have been neglected while urban areas have been developed attracting migrants from rural areas to come to Accra.

Why migrate?
The interviews of Fati, Salamatu and Amina reveal that they have opted to migrate as a strategy to improve their livelihoods. They migrate looking to improve their employment opportunities. Fati, after arriving only five days ago, has found a place to stay. She bought a pot in the city and started her first day of work as a kayayei. She aspires to raise funds to learn hair-dressing and practice it back home. Salamatu has been settled in Accra for a longer period and is not sure when she will return to her home town as in Accra she has a job and is able to support herself, her infant and family back home. Amina is an example of someone who has entered into the informal sector to improve her family’s livelihood, by providing remittances and school items for her children, ensuring they stay in school.

Having little to no safety net, the three of them find in each other the strength to persist with their goals:

  • They stick together both in housing accommodation and during daily work. 

Fati and Salamatu are living together with 10 other women, most of them from the same ethnic and cultural background. Amina is also staying in the same place, even though she comes from a different region. Her reason is simple: “… because we are all kayayei”.

The three of them mention that they feel safe surrounded by women working in the same business and being inside locked doors at night. They do not fear for rape nor robbery inside their rooms – “No I am not afraid of rape because of the doors but for the money, none of the room-mates would steal money” (Fati)

  • They help each other financially 

Salamatu explains that their community group of seven kayayei has formed a “Susu group” (informal loan club) which aims at rotating 50 GHC (Ghana cedi) a week among the women. This collective strategy protects each one of them in case of financial need - “…should anyone have a financial problem, we would be able to help her… we would be helping each other out financially if someone becomes sick or bereaved etc.” (Salamatu). Then, she adds, on Sundays, seniors organize meetings to discuss issues related to work.

Amina reinforces the idea of companionship when she says – “If someone is really sick, we can contribute to take the person to the hospital and even contribute more money if the need arises and then transport the person back home”.

Migrant care and support
The kayayei have been identified as one of the vulnerable groups who need social interventions, including: access to free healthcare, shelter, scholarship grants for their children, and the establishment of response centres to protect their rights and to protect against gender-based violence.
Yet, according to the interviews, the government of Ghana barely supports them, nor recognizes the pathways through which the livelihoods of these young female migrants contribute to development. The kaya business has been labelled as a part of distress migration. In my opinion, this view focuses exclusively on the negative aspects of their migration. There is a gap in migration policies, research and evidence around the links between rural-urban migration and poverty reduction, as well as, in the documentation of migrants’ coping strategies.

Are kayayei vulnerable? Yes, but they're also determined, brave and resilient. Migration allows them to play important roles: in the economy, within their families, within the kayayei community and in their personal lives. They feel these opportunities would not have been available if they had stayed back at home. It is time to recognize their strength and contribution to all these different spheres, and to make policies to support them and protect their rights.




Mariana Chambel is a Migrating out of Poverty Communications Research Assistant based at the University of Ghana, Centre for Migration Studies currently working on issues related to the Migration Industry, in particular Kayayei and domestic workers.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The national anti-‘Kwerekwere’ pastime

by Shezane Kirubi



“You do not look Kenyan.” 

This statement has been repeated to me in response to where I am from, too many times to count, during my time here in South Africa. Until now, I did not think that I had to fit into some stereotypical view of what a Kenyan should look like. When I first arrived in Johannesburg in July, I was excited at the opportunity to immerse myself in the vibrant cultural activities and events that South Africans frequently speak about, and for which the country is well-known.  However, within a few days of my arrival, I personally encountered the expressed displeasure, from some South Africans, at my inability to understand or speak a local language. I very soon came to realize how pervasive and sad the daily phenomenon of xenophobia is in South Africa. It is a huge obstacle to the success of regional migration in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. During my mini-excursions around the city centre, I can sincerely say that I have never felt more like a foreigner in any other country than like I have here in Johannesburg.  I find this absurd, considering that I am black and African! 

However, because I am indeed black and African, many local South Africans start with an assumption that I must be a South African and automatically start a conversation in a local dialect. It seems that some use this as a sieve-like tool to identify foreigners of other African countries. Now don’t get me wrong: I think that its amazing that South Africans have been able to hold on to their cultural identity embedded within their local dialects. However, when this is used as a discriminatory tool to exclude other people, it loses its symbolic value. In my view, xenophobic tendencies and attitudes indicate a lack any moral or rational reasoning, especially when one considers that African national borders were created by colonial governments. African foreigners seem to be so frequently harassed, seemingly to ensure that they do not ‘violate’ deeply flawed racial and ethnic purities that were artificially cobbled together under colonialism and apartheid. Therefore, despite the transition from ‘white’ authoritarian and colonial rule to democracy in 1994, prejudice and violence persist in many parts of contemporary South Africa. It seems to me that the shifts in political power that have occurred since 1994 have ushered in a range of new discriminatory practices and victims. 

Xenophobia seems to be part-and-parcel of South African technologies of nation-building, and some argue it is part of the country’s ‘culture of violence’. During my internship at the African Centre of Migration and Society (ACMS), I have observed that xenophobia in South Africa is a catchword that pops up in many conversations. It is also featured in profound and intense academic research articles and policy papers exploring the causes and its implications to the country.

Xenophobia combines the Greek words, xenos (foreign) and phobos (fear) to denote a ‘hatred for foreigners’.  It is usually characterized by a negative attitude towards foreigners which is frequently typified by dislike and fear. Most often, xenophobia is framed as an attitude; however, this is misleading in South African examples because xenophobia is not restricted to a fear or dislike of foreigners, but it also frequently results in intense tension and violence in many parts of the country.  Unfortunately, this type of violence is not only concentrated in ‘xenophobic hotspots’ where localized competition for political and economic power is sometimes a trigger; but it has been found to be more inescapable than many are ready to admit. When one reflects on South Africa’s history, one finds that for centuries nasty and derogatory labels proliferated for different groups of people. During apartheid, the word ‘kaffir’, which is now considered a taboo word, was used by ‘white’ people to describe and address dark-skinned people. Currently, the South African colloquial word ‘makwerekwere’ (plural) is used for foreigners in South Africa, specifically dark-skinned people from other African countries. However, ‘kwerekwere’ (singular) doesn’t simply mean foreigner, but includes pejorative connotations of regarding foreigners as incomprehensible and undesirable. Commentators on the etymology of the word have argued that people who first coined the word were referring to the languages of foreign-born people sounding like a meaningless “kwirikwiri” noise to speakers of the main South African languages. 

Anthropologist Francis Nyamjoh, in his recently published book #RhodesMustFall: Nibbling at Resilient Colonialism in South Africa, strongly argues that there is a deadly national game going on in South Africa. This game involves the sport of spotting the ‘kwerekwere’, naming and shaming the Mozambican ‘shangaan’, taming and maiming the Nigerian, stealing and looting from the Somali businessperson, exploiting the Zimbabwean waitress, and abusing the Basotho domestic worker. The purpose of this national hobby, he argues, is to ensure that foreigners do not invade ‘sacred borders’ or violate what he calls the imagined “borders of intimacies”. 

In trying to explain such high levels of discrimination, some scholars have attributed South African xenophobia to learned behaviour acquired during the experience of Apartheid. Another frequent explanation uses critiques of the national government’s service delivery record. With regards to this, the rate of socio-economic inequality in the country has been pinpointed as the greatest scourge implicated in xenophobic violence which has frequently occurred in the informal margins of the formal economy. Many locals hold perceptions that foreign nationals compete with the poorest South Africans to eke out menial livelihoods. 

Additionally, South Africa’s stringent immigration policies have aggravated the problem. Unfortunately, this has tremendously affected the country’s refugee and asylum system. Research findings have shown that refugees and immigrants often state that they are sometimes prepared to accept very low-paying jobs because they do not have easy access to social protection in South Africa; and because many don’t have the ‘safety net’ of an extended family that they may have in their home countries. Ironically, the Department of Home Affairs frequently institutionalizes xenophobia via discriminatory laws and practices against migrants from other African countries, while at the same time it is frequently stated that the country is stymied by a severe shortfall of skilled workers. Black foreigners in South Africa are often portrayed as parasites sponging off public services for their own selfish survival. Many South Africans seem to indulge in a political rhetoric of panic which likes to spread perceptions that South Africa’s current socio-economic problems have been caused by a so-called ‘influx’ of African migrants.  



In a new project, ACMS, and a tech company iAfrikan  have collaborated with a number of partners to set up a platform to monitor xenophobic threats and violence. Similar to the Ushahidi crowdsourcing platform which was created after the 2007/08 post-election violence in Kenya, Xenowatch aims to track all forms of xenophobic threats and attacks on people and property in South Africa, and includes a website containing interactive mapping and visualization based on reports received. The platform allows anyone to easily and anonymously report threats of violence, past attacks, or active mobilization using a free SMS (text message), an email, or by entering a report on the website. When I reflect on the efficacy and success of the Kenyan Ushahidi platform to provide timely and detailed information on any possibility of election-related violence in the 2013 General Elections; I think Xenowatch may be a step in the right direction. 

The prevalence of the stereotypical views of foreign-born people that many South Africans hold onto is neither innocent nor accidental. Similarly, I find that it is no laughing matter. While there is a popular contemporary emphasis on stabilizing the continent of Africa and bringing peace to its various regions, in my view, xenophobia contradicts the ideals of nationalism and Pan-Africanism, that many argue are the pathway to African progress and socio-economic development. As Africans we need to get ourselves out of this self-hating conundrum by letting go of truncated and static notions of citizenship or belonging. The Africa we have today would not have existed and cannot exist without immigration and emigration. 

Thursday, 10 November 2016

What if migration had not occurred?

Economic and Social counterfactuals of migration in Ghana


by Collins Yeboah


Poko, is a 26 year old, unmarried man and a first male child to his parents comes from Nandowli in the Upper West region of Ghana. After secondary school, Poko could not continue with his education as a result of poverty. He migrated to Accra to work in the informal sector so he could support his family back home. Poko remits money to his family regularly for their upkeep; something he would not have done if migration had not occur. However, Poko’s migration to Accra has delayed his plans of getting married and having children. Poko says:

“I don’t have a wife. The pressure from home is too much to bear! I am happy I am able to provide for them though”

Edem, is a 29 year old migrant from Peki, in the Volta region who lives happily with his wife at Haasto, a suburb of Accra. Edem, a school dropout, migrated to Accra about six years ago to work in the informal sector as a mason. He married his wife two years ago something he says “he wouldn’t have done had he not migrated to Accra”.

Though Edem feels sad for not being able to further his education, he has gained financially and socially from his migration to Accra. He is able to send money back home to his household members back home but not on a regular basis:

“They are always on me to send them money. But you know I have another family here to cater for”

The search for opportunities 
For the two migrants, their migration to Accra, started with thoughts about opportunities in settings other than their places of origin. Migration is an action invested with a great deal of hope. They had hoped for better jobs and improved living conditions. For migrants like Poko and Edem, from relatively poorer areas, migration to towns and cities is often viewed as a relative increase in economic status as it increases their incomes in an “absolute” sense. For migrants’ households it’s an insurance and an additional income to supplement on-farm activities.

The challenges of migration 
There is quite a lot of evidence on economic gains of migration with little or no emphasis on social gains. Recent studies however indicate that migration into cities could result in; delayed marriages, deferred child birth, affects education, and emotional and psychological stress on migrants. From the two migrants, Poko has gained financially and remits back to his family members, however, he has lost socially because he is unable to marry something he would have done had migration not occurred:

“In my community, a man of my age should have a wife by now but here I am not married. I only work for my family not my welfare. Where I sleep, is too small to accommodate two people. In my community, people expect that a migrant like myself should have a better place to sleep so I can have a good woman to marry”

Poko’s statement underlines what migrants can potentially lose because of migration.

Social counterfactuals
The stories of Poko and Edem raise points about the social counterfactuals of migration. Fewer studies have explored how migrants and their households would have fared had migration not occurred. Most studies focus on monetary measurement of welfare impacts of migration with little or no focus on social counterfactuals.

The Centre for Migration Studies, University of Ghana in collaboration with University of Sussex, UK study on “Migration into Cities in Ghana: An Analysis of the Counterfactual” examines whether (and by how much) rural-urban migrants and their households have gained in real income and welfare terms from their migration. The study focuses on both economic counterfactuals (e.g. gains/losses in terms of income, employment, assets accumulation) and social counterfactuals (e.g. gains/losses in terms of marriage, child bearing, family formation, education etc.)

The findings suggest that on average households lose from migration. However, this is not an experience shared by all households: better off households actually gain, while poorer households are more likely to lose. Also migration to cities has affected marriages, timing of first birth, education and psychological status of migrants. Thus, the findings suggest that not everyone may gain from migration and that it may be better for some people to remain behind at the origin.

Two policy briefings from the study are also available for download
Migration to Cities in Ghana: Economic benefits to Migrants and their Households 
Social Benefits and Losses of Migrating into Cities in Ghana

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Soweto - the melting pot of South African history and culture

By Shezane Kirubi

In my three months in Johannesburg I have been struck by how the city has been able to transform itself, from a symbol of racist oppression during South Africa’s struggle for democracy, to a cultural hub with an electrifying African vibe which commemorates South Africa’s long and troublesome journey to democracy, as well as celebrating the diversity of the proud traditions of the millions of people living in the city.

Some of South Africa’s most interesting and pertinent history sites are in the township of Soweto, which was set up under segregation and apartheid as a dormitory town for the African workforce who were regarded, until the 1980s, as temporary sojourners under the migrant labour system. It has long been the most populous black urban residential area in the country, and its population size could qualify it to be a city in its own right, if it was not part of Johannesburg. I visited Soweto twice and those visits were the highlight of my time in Johannesburg as I experienced how the township acts a melting pot of South African urban culture.

Soweto’s significance in the struggle for democracy

Soweto’s rich political history has guaranteed its place in the history books. People around the world recognise the name ‘Soweto’ and the township’s significance in the struggle for democracy. There are iconic struggle sites like the Hector Pietersen memorial which commemorates the June 1976 youth uprising against apartheid; Orlando High School whose students were core activists in the 1976 uprising; and the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Moroka which served as a spiritual haven for thousands of people as well as being a venue for resistance gatherings and the political funerals of people killed in the struggle against apartheid.

I was excited to also visit one of Soweto’s oldest suburbs, Orlando. On Vilakazi Street I visited the former home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela which is now a museum. Nearby in the same street is the former residence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, making it the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners once lived.  I was able to also visit the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown where the 1955 Freedom Charter was signed. Other prominent figures from Soweto whose names resonate around Africa include boxing legend Baby Jake Matlala, singing diva Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and soccer maestro Jomo Sono.

In Soweto I was feeling brave and daring and so I headed out to the decorated Orlando Towers (formerly the cooling towers of the electricity utility) for a 100m bungee jump from a suspension bridge which was an unforgettable and incomparable adrenaline rush. Suspended high up in the air I overlooked the Soweto landscape and saw kilometres of settlements of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets.

I believe that no one should travel to South Africa without visiting Soweto because of its inspiring heritage and cultural journey to freedom. What is even more remarkable is how Sowetans pride themselves on the urbane and street feel of the township. I noticed that the area is filled with plenty of ‘shebeens’ which are local drinking joints that remain very popular. The township also remains a bustling urban hive of activity that hosts numerous festivals throughout the year. Luckily when I visited, I was able to listen to the intricate rhythms and harmonies of a male choral group playing near Mandela house which was very inspirational. There were many street performers who captured the attention of large crowds of people with their talents and ability to perform breath-taking acts. Although the township still includes people living in extreme poverty, one can observe its progressive aspect deeply embedded in its urban and social feel.

Insights about migration

Reflecting on my visit, I felt that Soweto offers important insights about migration particularly migrant labour and mobility. It has a complex history of the urbanisation of Africans both from within South Africa and elsewhere in southern Africa. Industry and mining were dependent on cheap ‘migrant labour’ for their profits; while at the same time a succession of white governments tried to control the stream of urbanising migrants by denying these workers both their political rights and their rights to live permanently in the towns and cities.  Sites in Soweto like former hostels, monstrous prison-like buildings, were originally designed as single-sex accommodation for male migrant workers from rural areas and neighbouring countries while workers who were allowed to live temporarily in Soweto were tenants in houses with ’99 year leases’.

I have come to realize that to understand South Africa’s current immigration policies and hostility towards new migrants, one has to understand its migration history as well as the path that led to democracy. As sad as it may be that many South Africans express xenophobic attitudes, it is also imperative to be able to analyse the history of those perceptions, particularly in the context of the hard-won right to settle permanently in the cities.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Remittances, fluid subject positions, and social change

By Dorte Thorsen,

How do we discover subtle changes in cultural norms that otherwise seem steadfast? Cultural norms that sketch the social positions of women and men in broad brush strokes and shape relationships between spouses and across generations. What elasticities creep into those norms allowing one person to stretch beyond socially imposed limitations while keeping another bound by power hierarchies and culturally stipulated ways of behaving?

Since the conference Gendered Dimensions of Migration in Singapore 30 June – 2 July 2015, the author of a new Migrating out of Poverty working paper and I have come back to these questions again and again. Our reflections have panned out in an analytical framework that centres on gender identification as a fluid process through exploring how people are ‘doing gender’, how gender norms are subverted and dwelled in, and how intra-household decision-making sustains simultaneous elements of cooperation and conflict. It makes for a noteworthy analysis of intra-household relations.

Unsettling the idea of migration as a gendered phenomenon

In Tangail district in central Bangladesh dominant gender norms consider men as the main breadwinners and women as the carers of all members of the household. Married and unmarried men alike are expected to work for their household. To be considered good and responsible they have to do everything possible to provide for their parents, wife and children. Women, on the other hand, gain social status from their reproductive competency and modest demeanour. They are seen to be needing their husband’s or male relatives’ protection to be safe and sound.

Because of these norms labour migration has come to be seen as a male phenomenon. Around 90 percent of the international migrants from Bangladesh are men.

However, in countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia international migration is said to have become feminised. This is because of a shift in migrant flows to meet the demand for female workers in domestic service or labour-intensive industrial production lines.

The labelling of migration as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ phenomenon thus often depends on the gender of the migrant. However, the attention paid to the impact of migration on left-behind spouses, children and ageing parents suggests that the effects of migration are tightly knit into the social fabric of communities with high levels of migration. The gendered effects of migration expand way beyond consideration of the sex of the person who travels.

Women’s fluid subject positions

The extended case studies presented in the paper reveal that women’s subject positions change when their everyday life changes because of migration. As wives of migrants, they have to deal with institutions and people outside the household and make day-to-day and sometimes bigger decisions.

No matter the degree to which they observed purdah (the practice of women occupying secluded spaces away from the gaze of men who are not part of the family) before the husband’s migration, they come to perform their duty as a good wife by becoming de facto household heads dealing with banks, money lenders, businesses, schools etc.

As remittances managers, women interact in the public sphere and influence the pathways of their children while also upholding their care-giving responsibilities. Some of them become dominant matriarchs in the absence of their husband without this being considered a transgression of gender norms. The idea of men’s labour migration as necessary and beneficial for the household and for maintaining men’s social position, creates new subject positions for women which gain social legitimacy due to number of women acting as remittance managers.

Transgressing norms by bridging feminine and masculine behaviour

Rural women only become international labour migrants when in exceptional need. Often they have been widowed or abandoned by the husband or male members of the family are unable, or unwilling, to provide for them and their children.

As migrants, women transgress the dominant norms related to purdah, honour, and the need for protection by taking responsibility as providers for their families. As the wife of a husband who stays behind, their proactivity highlights the husband’s incapacity but also the trade-off they make between retaining their reputation as a good wife and a good mother. Their challenge of the husband’s social standing is further cemented if they choose sending remittances to members of their natal family or, once their children come of age, to their children.

Married female migrants perform flexible subjectivities but so do their husband if the marriage has not broken down. They use the norms sketching gendered responsibilities and privileges differently to increase their bargaining power to claim control over how remittances should be used.

Sometimes the result is open conflict, often bargaining is implicit and a give-and-take between adhering to some gender norms while subverting others.

Limitations on subject positions

It is clear that the migration of married men and women sparks transformations in their social positions and marital relations. The dynamics surrounding remittances from migrants who are not married, or whose marriage has ended, offer different insights.

Most women in Tangail district marry before they turn twenty, hence few female youths migrate abroad. Female migrants are usually women who have been widowed, abandoned by their husband, or divorced and have children in their charge. While they can expect support from their natal family, the economic standing of the family may foster the need for them to migrate. By letting their father or brother take control of the use of remittances, they reiterate a more traditional feminine subject position than married female migrants. They underscore the idea of women needing protection and by doing so they make claims on their family’s continued support to ensure their future.

Unmarried male migrants have not yet been married. Their responsibilities are usually towards their parents and they often fall into the trap of the social hierarchy in rural Bangladesh, where it is the patriarch’s prerogative to make decisions. Sons have little say in how remittances are used and investments tend to be made in family property and welfare. By reiterating a more traditional masculine subject position, male migrant youths may gain little in terms of ensuring their future materially.

Subject positions in flux

The working paper argues that as soon as male migrants return home, their wives’ roles as remittance managers come to an end as the husband is keen to consolidate his position and reputation in the community. Changes to an individual’s subject positions may thus seem somewhat rigid. This is not the author’s intention however.

The in-flux nature of subject positions is more discernible in the case of female migrants. Their limited numbers in combination with their exceptional need arising from the private sphere of households opens space for disapproving of their performance of wifehood. Female migrants do not have the same social legitimacy as the wives of migrants but must constantly navigate how they conduct themselves, the choices they make, and how they convert their remittances into other resources to stay within the bounds of womanhood in rural Bangladesh. This is a constant navigation of social relations and different forms of resources. Subject positions are thus fluid and intangible in themselves.

Due to the short-term nature of the fieldwork that underpins the paper, the analysis cannot capture the effect of the knowledge and experience that women accrue through managing remittances or migrating. However, the insights gained into marital and intergenerational relations help us appreciate that women are unlikely to shed this capability upon the husband’s or their own return.

Although they may take up more traditional and submissive social positions in public to adhere to the dominant norms, their understanding and experience of how the gender system works has changed. A theme that would be interesting to explore in future research then is how return migration impact on conjugal and intergenerational relationships. Of equal interest is the question of how return migration transforms the subject positions embodied by women and men.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The ways that remittances shape youths’ educational and occupational life paths in Bangladesh

By Dorte Thorsen

Over the past months I have enjoyed working with the authors of the new Migrating out of Poverty Working Paper 40. which addresses how international migration and the availability of remittances shape left-behind rural youths’ ideas of what a good future involves and how it can be pursued. The paper takes a step further than previous analyses and explores the cultural, social and economic dimensions underpinning youth aspirations and pathways. It demonstrates that gender and generational inequality impact on youths' capacity to aspire and that all youths do not benefit equally from the opportunity spaces created by remittances.

Remittance-education-gender linkages

Youths’ opportunity for pursuing education is influenced by a number of factors. In Tangail, education is seen as a means to upward social mobility and youths - irrespective of their age, gender and economic circumstances - aspire to complete higher secondary school. They are much less interested in higher education. This is often because it is more difficult to access and because youths are under pressure 'to be established'.

The economic standing of households and the perception that education equates social mobility affects youths’ ability and interest in pursuing education. The investment of remittances enables youths from migrant household to attend school, at least until they have completed higher secondary school and sometimes also in higher education. But the opportunity space for education is also determined by norms outlining men’s and women’s social positions and responsibilities in adult life. Male youth are to become breadwinners and, eventually, heads of households, while young women are to become care-givers and home-makers.

Male youths

The gender norms related to male youths can enable access to education if school certificates and diplomas have been a pathway to secure employment for others. However, gender norms can also be constraining if parents are pushing for their son to become established as a breadwinner. The opportunity space for education intersects with concerns about the temporality of migration in a complicated manner. The preference for education can be underpinned by a desire for the longer-term security of regular payment, pension schemes etc. associated with government employment. The choice to leave education can also be rooted in the stopping of remittances or the need for a son to replace an ailing migrant father or mother by travelling for work.

Perceptions of social and economic status affect male youths’ educational and occupational choices. Government jobs are popular because they are perceived to offer long-term security, whereas migration is often seen as a temporary income. Again, opportunity spaces grow and shrink as a result of migration and remittance sending. On the one hand, remittances may allow youths to pursue the pathway(s) they desire the most by allocating money to education and the bribes necessary to land a government job. Remittances also allow youths to migrate. On the other hand, the experiences passed on by migrants about the hardships of migration affect youths’ perception of desirable destinations and migrant occupations and may sway their preference towards government jobs.

Female youths

Female youths’ future role as care-givers is intimately connected to marriage. In a setting where daughters are married off when they are 15-19 years old, female youths rarely have space to continue education beyond higher secondary school. An interesting point emerging from the research is that educated women are considered better mothers. So even if the role as care-giver limits the length of time spent in education, it consolidates the opportunity space for female youths to complete higher secondary school.

Opportunity spaces for youth to make choices about their occupation are closely linked with cultural and social constructions of what type of work is suitable for female and male youths. The emphasis on women’s care-giving responsibilities in the home and the idea that they are unable to make decisions and need protection shrinks the opportunity spaces for rural female youths. They rarely pursue jobs within Bangladesh and they do not become migrants. Only divorced and widowed women and women whose husband does not meet his economic responsibilities go abroad to work. The desired pathway for female youths is marriage, and only marriage failure opens other opportunity spaces. That said remittances do shape female youths’ marriages. They allow for a wider choice of marriage partners if remittances are allocated to pay the dowry and they may allow for a marriage to break down because the family can support a divorced daughter and her children. Yet, the reliance on remittances to pay the dowry may also push for an earlier marriage if remittances are soon to dry up.

Through its intriguing combination of Appadurai's concept of the capacity to aspire and feminist approaches to understanding intra-household behaviour, the paper exposes ways in which the cultural and socio-economic dimensions of migration can be enabling and constraining at the same time, in different ways for female and male youths. It is this analysis that has brought out fresh insights into the conundrums of how remittances affect female and male youths’ life paths.






Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The View from Cuff Road


By So Young Chang


Being a migrant worker rights’ advocate can mean confronting very unflattering aspects of a society. It means challenging ideas around national identity, the right to belong, pathways to citizenship, and other sensitive topics. Considering the civil society landscape in Singapore, I picked up on the perception that many NGOs working on migrant support and advocacy are spearheaded by expats.

That made me curious. What does this imply for the NGOs and their impact? How do the “expats” position themselves and present their message? What compels them to campaign for the rights of outsiders as someone who might be perceived as an outsider by others? Do they tend to appeal to globally established norms around human rights? The context lends itself to thinking critically about what makes an activist and what it means to be an activist. What are the values and ideals that one fights for and just how universal are they?

Debbie’s story
Debbie makes her way to Little India on weekday mornings around 07:30. She has committed to this routine practice of volunteerism and humanitarianism for many years. I first find her huddled around a table outside a small restaurant in Little India, surrounded by a crowd of men, each eager to tell a story that she would diligently document and process, the way she has been doing for many years now. Isthana Restaurant serves free meals to migrant workers who are awaiting decisions on various claims related to their salaries and/or injuries in their precarious work. Since its beginning in March 2008, the Cuff Roads project has served more than 660,000 meals to migrant workers. Varying degrees of injustice connect the men who go there with their makan cards (meal cards).

Her presence around the block is evident from the way every passerby nods with a smile when we walk down the street to have breakfast together. This is a lady who hosted migrant workers in her own home for more than six years. She seems to be motivated by something special, not satisfied with just doing things from a comfortable distance. In a previous interview she had spoken about being invited back to the villages of those she had helped. But the story she shares over freshly made roti blurs the narrative of a moralist whose world is black and white.

She recalled an occasion when she had gone to great lengths to assist a migrant worker. She had accepted an invitation to visit his family and his community. On arrival, she received a warm welcome from everyone, but at some point later, a different attitude emerged. For him, the fact that she had been able to travel there to meet with him sent a message to him, his relatives, and his neighbours. This must mean that she is a very important person whose resources and connections would then be able to benefit him in a transformative manner. “But now you’re not giving me anything more”, he pleaded.

On hearing Debbie tell this story, the first word that surfaced in my mind was betrayal. I voice this to her. But Debbie insists that she does not see it as such. Her response is, simply: “How can you blame them?” There is depth behind these words. It reveals genuine empathy honed through experience. Since that encounter, she merely allows herself more room to discern which friendships are worth continuing.

And friendship is a word that Debbie emphasises several times. It’s what sustains her work despite her pessimism about the current migrant situation in Singapore. She believes that the exploitation of migrant workers under the modern labour migration regime is going to worsen in the coming decades. And while there are those amongst us who would crusade for structural change, Debbie takes a different approach.

Debbie tells me: “There’s nothing I can do to really address the disparity of wealth within a community except as an individual, and if you have a close friend who’s really in need, you’ll do what you can.”

Be kinder than you need to be, expand your circle
Debbie sees the migrant workers who come to Cuff Road as potential friends. It would be hypocritical, she says, not to try her best to help when she has the voice and the means to improve the situation for someone who is sitting across the table from her. And suddenly, her exceptional actions make sense: this spirit of seeing every individual at eye level is what allows her to go that extra length. She sees each migrant worker for the totality of his circumstances. Opening up to interpersonal relationships can mean enriching insights, albeit not all of these will be straightforward affirmations for “doing good”. Through it all she has harnessed a remarkable capacity for compassion, which makes her daily work all the more valuable and impactful. For others who want to get involved and help out, she just tells them this:

“Be kinder than you need to be. Be kind to people outside your own circle. Be assertive, even aggressive when necessary. And reach out to people and understand things from their point of view, not your point of view.”

That circle can be defined by socioeconomic status, skin colour, or nationality, and these are hurdles that we all have to learn to go beyond. This can mean seeing the construction workers lifting concrete blocks as sons, brothers, and husbands who are shouldering the livelihoods of entire families back home. This can also mean seeing “expats” for their actions and messages rather than their accent or appearance. Differentiating the ‘other’ may be a biological impulse. But finding the familiar in the foreign and embracing the humanity in another are virtues. It is quietly remarkable how Debbie, and others like her, allow others to breathe easier, one by one, one at a time.

What Debbie taught me is that seeing the same view from one street every morning can impart immense wisdom. During our interview, she adds that we need to be less attached to outcomes. We shouldn’t refrain from doing something just because we may not succeed.

The ultimate irony may be that she doesn’t quite believe in advocating for universal human rights. Perhaps this calls for another blog post and another visit to Little India to ask her why.


Debbie is a long-time volunteer with a local NGO called Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), working under the banner of the Cuff Road Project (TCRP) which she began. Born in the US, she has been living in Singapore since the 1970s and is a familiar face to many locals for her advocacy work. Her story was featured in an Al Jazeera special, and she has helped to edit a book titled A Thousand and One Days: Stories of hardship from South Asian Migrant Workers in Singapore.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Seven reasons why the FAO has got it wrong about distress migration


“Migrants are a potential resource for agriculture and rural development as well as poverty reduction in their areas of origin. However, distress migration of rural youth can result in the loss of an important share of the most vital and dynamic part of the workforce, with obvious consequences for agricultural productivity. This infographic describes the root causes of rural youth distress migration and how out-migration and remittances can contribute to rural development, poverty reduction and food security.”

Predictably this has led to tweets such as “Distress #migration of youth saps agric workforce & undermines food security”; “Agriculture #RuralDevelopment can help #DistressMigration” which can easily be read to mean that migration by those who come from poor families is a problem and agriculture is always adversely affected by young people’s migration.

There are several problems with the rationale presented in the infographic:
1. Young people migrate for both economic and non-economic reasons. In the graphic the causes for distress migration of youth are identified as food insecurity, poverty etc. These may well be the proximate economic causes but inextricably bound up with these are other aspirational causes such as wanting to become an urban person and changing one’s identity; wanting to move away from traditional norms and cultural restrictions on behaviour and life choices.  Our research on migration from chronically poor areas illustrates the complexity of the migration decision calling into question simplistic categories such as distress migrants. For example boys and girls in Ethiopia migrated for a variety of reasons including the desire to continue with higher education, adopt urban lifestyles, escape early marriage and save money of their own to start a business and move away from farming.

2. The situation described is based on cross-sectional analysis, frozen in one point in time. As such it does not consider how the situation of migrants and their social and economic position might change over time. An approach grounded in the analysis of the temporality of migration drivers and outcomes would show how migration is incorporated into the life course of individuals and households and how short term deprivation and hardship may be traded against social and economic repositioning in the longer term. Emerging findings from our research in Ghana and Bangladesh on the migration of young people from poor households shows the transformative potential of migration over time.

3. An underlying assumption seems to be that reducing poverty at source can reduce migration. But we know from experience that this is not the case at all and in fact migration tends to increase with improved access to resources as both Skeldon and Martin have demonstrated years ago.

4. The experience of rural employment programmes in reducing migration is mixed. It cannot be assumed that creating jobs in rural areas will reduce migration. We need to ask what kind of jobs are being created and whether these are in sync with young people’s vision of who they want to be?

5.  People in remittances receiving households withdraw from work but this doesn't necessarily indicate an unhealthy dependence on remittances.  As has been argued by Clemens, instead it could mean that those left behind no longer have to work in degrading and demeaning occupations.

6. It is not clear whether the negative impacts of “distress migration” shown in the infographic are based on empirical evidence or whether they are  purely hypothetical based on old theories such as lost labour theory. The migration of young people from labour surplus situations or large households may not have such consequences. Even in households where other able bodied adults are not present, there may be community or kinship based systems of sharing labour.

7.  If distress migration is defined as migration that is undertaken when it is perceived to be the only option out of poverty this suggests that staying at home is a worse option. So it begs the question – how is migration then a worse outcome than staying at home?

Friday, 16 September 2016

UN draft Declaration on migration: A focus on internal migration and the generation and use of evidence are sadly lacking

By L Alan Winters

On the 19th September, the UN will hold a High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants. It will be informed by a draft Declaration of fairly broad principles accompanied by two Annexes making somewhat more concrete commitments.

The Declaration makes twelve references to ‘sustainable development’ and is heavily oriented towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The high principles of the 2030 Agenda led to concrete promises only in terms of achieving ‘orderly’ migration and the minor issue of remittance costs. The Declaration takes a more balanced approach to migration, by recognising more frankly the developmental benefits that it brings. However, the Declaration’s principal route to ‘balance’ is to mention almost any idea that exists which pertains to migration. Given such comprehensiveness, it is perhaps surprising that I was mainly struck by two omissions – one conscious, but nonetheless regrettable, and the other (I hope) by over-sight. 

Internal migration
The Declaration states that there were 244 million international migrants in 2015. But we know that there were also probably about 760 million internal migrants. The causes and consequences of internal migration are pretty similar to those of international migration, except that in most countries there is no formal legal barrier equivalent to immigration policies a country’s border. People move to try to raise their standards of life in economic or social terms. Because the physical and cultural distances between origin and destination are usually smaller for internal migration, it is cheaper and thus more open to poorer people. So, internal migration is more likely to help overcome poverty than international migration because most international migrants tend not to be poor in the first place.
The lower cost of internal than international migration also means that people will move for smaller rewards and/or with less concern for the risks - internal migration involves taking a smaller bet. As a result it is not surprising to see that some internal migrants fail to realise the gains they hoped for and face challenges finding decent housing and secure employment. This is no reason to discourage migration, however; rather it calls for policies to ease migrants’ transitions by countering discrimination, making public services accessible even to newcomers, and ensuring that potential migrants have access to better information.

Where is the evidence base?
The unconscious omission is to evidence, research or analysis; none of these words occurs at all in the Declaration or its Annexes! There is a hint (in Annex II para. 4.3) of ‘technical expertise’ being provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and reference to a role for civil society, but these are not commitments to evidence-informed policy and practice per se.

Given our profound ignorance of the process and parameters of migration this omission is rather disturbing. The shopping list approach of the Declaration, which lists nearly all possible migration-relevant approaches and activities, means that there is a desperate need to characterise the necessary trade-offs and priorities in deciding what sub-set of them to actually undertake.

In the Migrating Out of Poverty Consortium we have studied the process of making or changing policy in the super-sensitive field of migration. We find that, while politicians often rely more on narratives and myths than on hard analysis (for more on this see our work in Singapore and Bangladesh). Handled sensibly evidence can make an important, if not dominant, contribution to good policy outcomes. Moreover, in one case soon to be published on our website – South Africa’s Trafficking in Persons Act 2013 – the politicians themselves felt the absence of data and analysis acutely.

For sure, we need to act now on migration and to make policy with the best information we have now, but that does not excuse failing to seek more and better evidence in future. Thus in its debate I urge the General Assembly to make a special reference to undertaking research and policy analysis in migration on a deep and wide scale, not to see it as a mere technical afterthought to be managed by its latest recruit to the UN family (the IOM).

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Refugees and migrants - research objects and human realities - a reflection on ‘Queens of Syria’

By Eva-Maria Egger


Every day we hear and read about the horrific events in Syria, about refugees dying in the Mediterranean Sea, running from European police at borders, and still we cannot grasp that this is the reality of ordinary people.

What does it mean to be a refugee? What does it feel like to leave your home to be destroyed, not knowing when you will return - if ever - and what you will find left upon your return? How can you cope with the horrors you saw in war? When will you hold your children, your mother, in your arms again? What is it like to be constantly asked what it is like? Who will really help you? Who will let you into their country and into their home when you seek shelter? Articles and videos of journalists and researchers try to give answers to these questions. However, nothing compares to having a person look you in the eye and tell you their story.

In the theatre production Queens of Syria’ Syrian refugee women from a refugee camp in Jordan tell their stories, each one at her own pace, with her own voice, with her own strength and with all her vulnerability, and each one with the motivation that “I have a scream I have to let out. I want the world to hear it.” There is little that is this powerful to get a message across. There is little that is so purely human. There are few moments in which I felt so close, yet so distant to these women and their realities. One Syrian woman in the play said, that she wondered why telling her story in the form of a play would be of any use, but then she learned that the British really like theatre and that they take it very seriously. Thus, she understood that she would have to do theatre to make the British listen to her story.

As a migration researcher, this experience made me reflect on how we can communicate our research results. We should aim not only for methodologically and theoretically sound journal articles but also for ways that make everyone, from policy makers through to ordinary citizens and to researchers, understand that these topics are human realities. Thus, I am very excited to read the comic recently published by the Migrating out of Poverty consortium. It is one result from research our Sussex colleague Robert Nurick and Cambodian colleague Sochanny Hak conducted in Cambodia. The comic, Precarious Migration: Voices of Undocumented Cambodian Migrants, tells the story of irregular Cambodian migrants who move to Thailand in search of a better life and for a job that pays them enough to support their family, whom they’ve left behind. These people take risks that we cannot imagine, but the comic helps the reader to gain an idea of these experiences. In a few pages, in a few pictures, a range of emotions, from hope to fear, from desperation to relief, find their space. In this way, thousands of unheard voices, scarcely ever talked about in the news, are given the space to tell their story. And we, as researchers, and as ordinary citizens, get a little bit closer to their realities.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Book Review: Human Smuggling and Border Crossings

by Dorte Thorsen



Review of Human Smuggling and Border Crossings by Gabriella E. Sanchez
Routledge, 2015


Human Smuggling and Border Crossings successfully challenges the dominant discourse linking the smuggling of people with mafia-like criminal organisations, extreme violence, and greed. Gabriella Sanchez paints a picture of fluid networks of ordinary men and women who engage in the facilitation of extra-legal border crossings in the US state of Arizona as a means to tide over income gaps and to contend with―and oppose―structural marginalisation. Through a unique combination of deep knowledge of border control and law enforcement procedures from her work interviewing detainees for a county criminal court, critical analysis of court case files, and ethnographic field research, Sanchez unpacks the multifarious, minute activities making up border crossing operations. Her work is an important contribution to the emerging body of research highlighting the perspectives and practices of people facilitating border crossings.
The ethnography steadily digs into the global and local discourses surrounding smuggling and extra-legal border crossings, identifying flawed understandings and misrepresentations in order to promote particular policies. In line with critical scholarship on contemporary regimes of migration management, Sanchez notes that the focus on humanitarian crisis, violence, and death in border zones often results in decontextualized and ahistorical arguments, which fail to consider the effects of racialized, gendered, and classed inequalities. This, she demonstrates, is particularly problematic in the context of Arizona where racial inequalities date back more than a century and have been subject to various degrees of institutionalisation in labour and immigration legislation over time.

While the marginalisation of Mexican immigrants could promote the idea that they were prone to enter criminal activities to make a quick buck, Sanchez’s continued deconstruction of the myths surrounding smuggling puts that idea to rest well before it nestles. Her detailed analysis of people facilitating border crossings shows that they are a highly diverse group, and yet she effectively points out the commonalities pertaining to the division of labour along gendered lines. Although both women and men can operate as recruiters and coordinators, men are usually the ones engaged in the risky business of guiding migrants across borders and through desert zones and of driving them from one pick-up point to another or to the final destination. Women tend to work in safe houses where they provide care and support to migrants in transit and thereby fulfil an important role in maintaining the networks’ trustworthiness.

These insights are fresh. Digging deeper to understand the gender dynamics at play, Sanchez weaves in the structurally different positions and pathways of Mexican women and men in the US. She exposes that female border crossing facilitators are more settled in the Arizona border zone than their male counterparts, and that they therefore tap into different niches in the facilitation process. These niches reiterate gender inequalities in pay but not necessarily in social position. While racial stereotyping within law enforcement authorities renders Mexican men more at risk of having their papers checked, female facilitators and their families are, in fact, affected more profoundly in situations of detainment and deportation. For women, deportation entails separation from their children, whereas for men, whose families often remain in the country of origin, deportation doesn’t have the same effect.

Finally, challenging the idea that smugglers are part of criminal networks, Sanchez describes the flexible, social networks of relatives and acquaintances that characterise border crossing facilitation in Arizona. Most people don’t engage in these networks because of greed; rather, their participation is embedded in acts of solidarity and concern. Thus, relatives may encourage someone in economic difficulties to participate in a border crossing facilitation to tide over financial hardship, or facilitators may allow border crossers to work off fees they were unable to raise through other means. Relatively often, facilitators enlist border crossers to take on the role of a driver (i.e., to become part of the facilitation process) for a reduced fee. These practices manifest the fluidity and flexibility of border crossing networks in Arizona.

Human Smuggling and Border Crossings is a captivating and grounded account of how and why border crossing facilitators organise. Sanchez frames her analytical approach as part of the age-old agency-structure debate and turns to Bourdieu’s work to highlight how choices are made in the interstices of limits imposed by the habitus and people’s weaving around social and structural constraints in their struggle for social position. Yet, this debate isn’t picked up in her subsequent analysis. 

It would perhaps have been useful to her argument to offer further theorisation of the multiplicity of intersecting moral economies surrounding Mexican immigrants in the border zones of Arizona, and the social responsibilities and mutuality within the Mexican community at large and in intimate relationships. This angle might have brought out more succinctly the contractions within the migration management in Arizona, such as treating Mexican women and men differently, and of permitting irregular migrants some level of formalisation while denying them full legalisation. I would be interested in reading more about the ways in which norms and values linked with gender identities and class are effected by the processes of marginalisation in Arizona, and how people within the Mexican community related to race inequalities.

Sanchez’s narrative in Human Smuggling and Border Crossings is a noteworthy and timely contrast to mediatized stereotypes of human smugglers and thus an important contribution to understanding the effect of regimes of migration in the global north. This book will be of interest to advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics, journalists, and people concerned with mixed flows of migration, border control and migration management. As the ethnography is presented without anthropological jargon, it is an uncomplicated introduction to the kind of detail and insights ethnographic studies offer.


(This blog is a re-posting of the review first published on Oxford's Border Criminologies on 22 July 2016)
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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):


Thorsen, D. (2016) Book Review: Human Smuggling and Border Crossings. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/05/book-review-3 (Accessed [date]).

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Zimbabwean migrants and vehicle-based remitting patterns: Reflections in the International Month of Family Remittances

By Kudzai Vanyoro


This month 13 July 2016 was the International day of Family Remittances. Therefore I reflected on vehicle networks as remittance channels for Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa, particularly the cross-border bus networks. I also sought to find out reasons why these networks were preferred by some migrants.
On 8 July, my cousin-sister asked me to assist her by sending money to her parents in Zimbabwe. After asking which money sending agency she preferred, she informed me that I had to send it by bus. This entailed going to a regional bus terminus in Braamfontein in the Johannesburg CBD. This terminus is popularly known to Zimbabweans and others as “Power House”.
I got into the station at around midday fearing that the buses, which take the bus route to her home, had all departed already. I was welcomed by loud bus engine roars and hoots, ticket-advertising chants from bus conductors, and partially blocked paths between tightly spaced buses. “This is actually a remitting channel for some Zimbabwean migrants,” I thought to myself. I was a bit nervous because this channel is based on trust and has a lot of risks1.
Memory took me back to how the term ‘remittances’ had been defined in migration workshops I had previously attended:  a process of sending money or goods for payment or gift purposes.  Through further research, I found out that Zimbabweans in South Africa remit 58% of the total remittances from South Africa into the rest of the SADC region,2 and that, although regional bus terminuses were more often than not adjacent to online money-sending facilities, “The use of ‘omalaitshas’, personal couriers, relatives and spouses and other religious networks are noteworthy forms of remitting income and goods”.3 So at Power House, my thoughts wandered about in my head as I searched for a bus company with “decent -looking” individuals to whom I could entrust my sister’s money.
“Why do you opt to remit via road networks instead of using institutionalised money-transfer agents or freight companies?” I asked my sister later that day.
“My parents prefer taking money or groceries from the bus. That way they can petition the driver of my wellbeing and in some cases, hand him my favourite traditional foods to bring back to me,” she responded.
She further explained that the presence of semi-professional remittance agents in this channel also allowed for flexibility and innovation. At the end of the day, her parents would receive money and she would also receive culturally significant foods which kept her in touch with home. So I concluded that this channel facilitated a reciprocal flow of remittances between migrant families, gratifying the income and survival needs of those at home and the nostalgic or cultural needs of those abroad4.
Another task I had to endure on this particular day was that of negotiating charges with the bus personnel who were willing to deliver the money. A standard A4 counter book was handed to me, into which I was supposed to fill in personal details of the sending and receiving ends. Sections appeared in this order: Name of sender, contact number of sender, name of receiver, contact details of receiver, worth of money or goods sent, and money paid for service. The figure payable for the transportation of money could only be determined through ‘rational’ negotiations with the conductor. After negotiating and paying a reasonable amount, I came to the conclusion that remitting through the bus networks was much more affordable and had non-fixed, negotiable rates, unlike the more formalised agents whose rates are fixed and non-negotiable, this channel seemed cost effective. I was also told that frequency in sending through the same bus services led to cordial relationships between transporters and senders. Benefits included loyalty-driven ‘discounts’ when sending and, in some cases, free sending of small gadgets such as phones. This is crucial to migrants, given that sub-Saharan Africa is the most expensive region when it comes to the costs of agent-based remitting with South Africa having the highest costs. So I could see that the bus service remittance route is much more affordable, and fits the budgets of migrants and their families a lot better.
As my sister had explained, another factor influencing her remitting channel decisions had to do with her parents’ location and preferences.  Due to the absence of agent offices in their rural Masvingo area in Zimbabwe, the bus proved the only available and convenient channel; not to mention the fact that her parents who are older recipients of remittances would rather spare themselves the trouble of using pins and codes to collect money. 
All in all I observed that the decision on which channel to remit through was not solely influenced by the migrants themselves, and that the non-migrant families also play an active role in deciding preferred channels. As is the case of my sister, who chooses the bus for its ‘affordability and flexibility’, I am sure that there are other migrants who do the same. It may not be the most reliable of channels, seeing that the transactions are based merely on ‘trust’ but it seems to work for her and other migrants who might hold similar beliefs.

Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium conducted both quantitative and qualitative  researches on Zimbabwean migrants and remittances namely, Migrating out of poverty in Zimbabwe and Migration's effects on sending communities: Zimbabwe case study . Remittances were also discussed by Dr. Lothar Smith and Dr. Zaheera Jinnah in a “What does translocality mean and why does it matter” workshop held at ACMS earlier this year.

Kudzai Vanyoro is a Migrating out of Poverty  Research Communications intern based at the University of the Witwatersrand African Centre for Migration & Society  in Johannesburg.
Follow him on Twitter @kudzaivanyoro1







1 Dzingirai, V. Egger, E.M. Landau, L. Litchfield, J. Mutopo, P. and Nyikahadzoi, K. (2015;7) Migrating out of poverty in Zimbabwe, accessed on http://migratingoutofpoverty.dfid.gov.uk/files/file.php?name=wp29-dzingirai-et-al-2015-migrating-out-of-poverty-in-zimbabwe.pdf&site=354 on 11 July, 2016.

2 Finmark Trust (2015) The South Africa- SADC Remittance Channel, accessed on www.southernafricatrust.org/.../2015/.../finmark-trust-remittances-from-south-africa-t on 10 July 2016

3 Dzingirai, V. Egger, E.M. Landau, L. Litchfield, J. Mutopo, P. and Nyikahadzoi, K. (2015) Migrating out of poverty in Zimbabwe, accessed on http://migratingoutofpoverty.dfid.gov.uk/files/file.php?name=wp29-dzingirai-et-al-2015-migrating-out-of-poverty-in-zimbabwe.pdf&site=354 on 11 July, 2016.

4 Remittances: Cultural Connections and Diaspora Challenges (January 4, 2016), accessed on